Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★★½

This was one of my most anticipated movies of the year, if not my most anticipated one, and it still managed to exceed my expectations. Easily the most fun I had at the movies this year (helps that I saw it in a theater), Promising Young Woman also has themes that demand to be paid attention to. That combination of entertainment and thought-provoking ideas makes it easily the greatest movie of the #MeToo era. Not a major milestone, mind you, when the competition is basically The Assistant (a fine enough movie, but like watching paint dry compared to PYW) and Bombshell. Could end up being the definitive #MeToo movie.

But it would be a mistake to box it into that role only. This isn't the preachy, on-the-nose film that label might lead you to believe. It's nuanced in its portrayals of men (not only is their behavior realistic, also not all men are "bad" in the exact same, cartoonish way), and it's also just so fun to watch. It isn't afraid to revel in its revenge-movie plot. You end up rooting for Carey Mulligan's Cass so much that you pretty much forget that some of the stuff she does is morally and legally dubious (but seriously, I was so on her side I basically thought of her as a heroic vigilante, not even an antihero).

Mulligan, by the way, is fantastic. She's one of my favorite actresses and she manages to deliver a performance here that just might be her best yet (at least, that I've seen). I'm not great at describing acting, but I think the degree to which I empathized with her character and was on her side speaks for itself. She just nails every line and every gesture and to put it in quite basic terms, it was so fun to watch her performance.

Other actors chip in great performances as well, most of them skewing towards the comedic side (the film as a whole is a lot funnier than I thought it would be). This is one of my favorite casts of the year for sure, featuring a number of smaller actors that I just love. In addition to Mulligan (who really should be A-list by now but isn't quite, maybe this'll put her over the top), you've got Alison Brie (this in addition to a number of her recent roles has really pushed her past her Annie persona), Bo Burnham (actually have only seen him in his comedy specials, but his talents truly shine here), Max Greenfield (manages to make a very unfunny situation extremely amusing), Clancy Brown, Alfred Molina, Sam Richardson (gets one of the funniest lines in the movie), Connie Britton, and even Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Perhaps part of the great cast and the amazing job they do is because of Emerald Fennell in the director's chair. An actress-turned-writer-director (this is her first feature), you wouldn't know it from watching the film. Her direction is remarkably assured, as is her writing. There are few hiccups to be found here, there is rarely a dull moment, and most of the characters get fleshed out. And best of all, the themes are not left in the dust by the fast-as-lightning plot.

Even while the rapid pace leaves no time for boredom, there is time for reflection on our own society and the positions of power we men are in (even if we purport to call ourselves "nice guys"). I suppose a minor SPOILER alert is in order here, I'm going to be pretty vague here but if you don't want to know anything skip to the next paragraph. By the end, I appreciated that Fennell left no room for regular, actually nice guys. I think it's comparable to the ridiculous "all lives matter" argument people make against BLM. Obviously they do, but just because you say Black Lives Matter doesn't mean you discount the others. The only thing is that Black lives are the ones in danger. It's the same thing here, only reversed: obviously there are some men who aren't douchebags on some level, but they're not the ones at issue here.

I haven't read any reviews to this yet, so I'm not sure of the general reaction, but I'm guessing there will be some people (men) who accuse it of ignoring the instances where there is a false accusation against an innocent man. And while that is a valid argument, it's not Fennell's job to address it. This isn't a treatise on the #MeToo movement, simply one aspect of it. And it shouldn't diminish any of the many truths self-evident here that there are other issues. There are so many real problems the movie addresses that aren't the ones that immediately come to mind when discussing problems associated with the patriarchy. I'll have to watch it again (and I certainly will) to more precisely define its themes, but there seemed to be a focus on bystanders and people who looked the other way when confronted with an injustice. And not just men, there are two prominent female characters who turned their backs on problematic behavior. I think it's a great lens through which to look at the issues presented here, because I feel like most men would probably say they'd never rape anybody or do anything like that, but that's not the only problem. It's not like every single man on the planet would do something that bad (most probably wouldn't). But it's such a persistent problem because of all of the other men (and some women) who enable them and allow their behavior to go on, uninterrupted. It puts the spotlight on people who consider themselves "nice guys" and just was thought-provoking in general.

First and foremost though, this is one hell of a ride. Killer soundtrack, candy-colored visuals, even one montage that looks like it would be right at home in a rom-com (maybe you'd consider that a minus, but definitely a bonus for me). Promising Young Woman is a great time at the movies. There have been other movies this year maybe slightly more artistic, that maybe make you think a little bit more, that I ranked just above this one on my 2020 list, but this is definitely going to be the film I root for hardest during awards shows. If I was purely ranking based on enjoyment, this would be my #2 film of the year. Really my only substantive complaint is that it's not, ultimately, as surprising or unpredictable as I had hoped. The ending, while shocking in the moment, was reminiscent of other movie endings I've seen before. But it didn't really matter because I had a grin so dang wide during that scene I couldn't care less.

And p.s., a tip for my Swifties out there, I listened to "I Did Something Bad" in the car on the ride home, and you should too, I promise you will not regret it

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➡️ 2020 ranked

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